Six-inchers are few and far between. They are far from the established sweet spot for screen size in most markets. We've definitely seen the segment pick up in the last year across various manufacturers portfolios but the fact remains that phones this big remain a niche product for now. Regardless of how tastes evolve, it is always a good time for us when a Sony Xperia Ultra comes our way.
And the Ultra moniker doesn't make any promises the phablet can't keep - the 6-inch display doesn't fear any test and posts respectable numbers across the board. And it's the proper aspect for the day, for you YouTube buffs. If only there were speakers at its both ends.
Huge screen, tiny battery - poor endurance? Not really. While the overall rating is just okay, the results in the individual tests with real on-screen time are more than encouraging. And about 13 hours worth of talk time should be enough even if you're not the texting type. Calls aside, the excellent efficiency comes courtesy of the 16nm Mediatek Helio P20, and it also breezes through the light Android skin - easily a match for the Snapdragon 625, which seems to be the prevailing choice in this segment.
Stick to daylight stills and camera output is very good with heaps of resolved detail and wide dynamic range. We experienced some issues with white balance on our unit, but we're willing to write it off as a one-off, reviewer's curse type of thing - especially since there was nothing of the sort when the XA1 non-Ultra was around. Video is consistently mediocre between the two, so no 'asides' there.
The selfie camera is another of the XA1 Ultra's headline features, and we like it as much as we did in the previous generation. It captures a lot of detail, it has wide dynamic range and renders accurate colors, plus it's got the flash to (just barely) rescue shots in extremely low light.
If you must have a 6-inch display and nothing smaller will do, there's little the big names have for you so far this year. That is unless you're willing to spend double and go for the Galaxy S8+, but that's more than a little stretch.
Xiaomi unveiled the Mi Max 2 a few days ago, but the 6.44-inch phablet (the 'ph' part there is barely justifiable) might be too much of a stretch on your pocket, only this time literally. This one's packing the Snapdragon 625, coupled with a 5,100mAh battery, and we're pretty sure it'll beat the Xperia in endurance despite the larger display, though we haven't had a chance to test it yet.
It's also running a newer Android 7.1.1 and can record FullHD video, but we can't see it matching the Xperia's stills. And the 5MP selfie shooter on the Mi Max 2 - Xiaomi is not even trying to stand up to the tricked-out 16MP front cam of the Xperia XA1 Ultra. The Mi Max 2 is cheaper however, but not available everywhere.
Another one of those region-specific offerings, the Oppo F3 Plus is a somewhat more expensive 6-incher out of China. It's powered by the vastly more powerful Snapdragon 653 chip, with 4K video recording support being a direct benefit. The F3 Plus also has a strong selfie game, but its interpretation is of the dual camera variety - read 'bokeh effects'. In terms of battery life, the XA1 Ultra's stamina isn't on the same level as the F3 Plus'.
Opting for the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) means you've conceded the 6 inches requirement, but at 5.7", it's not that big of a difference. In return, you'd be getting IP68-rated dust and water protection, a consistently more powerful chipset, and also notably better battery life. The A7 (2017) may be more expensive depending on region, and may actually not be available in your market, especially if that's Europe.
In the absence of a Mi 6 Plus, the Mi 5s Plus is the sensible phablet to have in Xiaomi's lineup. Dual rear camera with 4K video, Snapdragon 821, excellent endurance, bargain price. Only it's no Sony, and aftersales support may be lacking in large parts of the world, where you'd also need to resort to gray imports to buy one in the first place.
The Huawei Nova Plus' display measures 'just' 5.5 inches in diagonal - that wouldn't be Ultra in Sony's world. It is, however, more affordable in some places and it can record 4K video. On the other hand, it's still running Marshmallow. It is getting a replacement - the nova plus 2 was recently announced, and that one has got a dual camera on the back, and a 20MP selfie snapper - the Ultra's been outnumbered.
It's transition time in the Moto camp, where the Moto Z Play is a viable alternative to the XA1 Ultra. The old one is pretty great already - Snapdragon 625 and 3510mAh battery made for a 100-hour rating in our tests. The 4k video recording comes as standard, as does support for MotoMods snap-on accessories on the back. The incoming Moto Z2 Play slashes battery capacity to 3,000mAh, but the Snapdragon 626 should be even more efficient. Both Motos have little to offer in the selfie department with their pedestrian 5MP shooters.
We'd mention the OnePlus 3T, which is great value for money if slightly more expensive than the Xperia, but with the OnePlus 5 around the corner and sales of the 3T discontinued, you can't really bet on getting one.
Big display, adequate battery backup, high-res cameras front and rear, the Xperia XA1 Ultra is tailor-made for the YouTube-watching, selfie-snapping, Insta-sharing crowd that have the phone in their hands all day. Other phones can fill those shoes, yes - some cheaper, and some more powerful too. But Sony fans would pick the Ultra over all of the above any day, and (as it often happens with the company's mid-tier) it would actually be a very reasonable choice.